Thursday 4 September 2008

Refined Skill and Talent

We're very happy to announce that Calgary poet Christopher Wiseman, author of recent Signal Editions 36 Cornelian Avenue, is on the 3-person shortlist for the big Alberta Award in Literary Arts, the Grant MacEwan Award, worth $50,000. (Yes, $50,000. Do the Griffins know about this?) The Award will being given out in a big literary/arts gala on September 6.

Here's Claire Young's review of 36 Cornelian Avenue, published in the Calgary Herald on August 3rd.


Calgary poet Christopher Wiseman revisits his childhood years growing up in the seaside town of Scarborough, England, during the Second World War in his latest collection, 36 Cornelian Avenue.

Named for the address he lived at, Wiseman sifts together layers of memories with later research -- visiting places and museums and talking to friends and family -- to try to make sense of the events that shaped his youth.

The indelible etchings on his personality rise from the gnaw of rations, pitch-dark blackouts, fathers off fighting, frightened mothers at home, the strength of individuals' kindness to the community (such as the farmer who made sure the folks on the lane got a little extra milk or eggs) in addition to the usual traumas and insecurities of growing up. There's the powerful juxtaposition of the innocence and ignorance of youth playing alongside huge iron mines that washed up on the nearby beach.

There's the lingering guilt of drawing blood in a minor act of violence that reflects and informs the greater horrors of the time.

Wiseman describes his world, which could be as small, cramped and frightening as the space under the steel dining table where he would retreat with his mother and brother during air raids to a world as large as the catharsis of peace.

The hurts from youth sometimes carry through and are not forgotten in later life. There's the residual anger at the German pilot flying a black Junkers 88 who flew low over Cornelian Avenue one night, strafing and terrifying its 100 residents forevermore, for no tactical purpose.

Even though Wiseman won a schoolyard and later graduated from Cambridge, the sting of being underestimated by two teachers for both his athletic abilities and his academic prowess still resonates. Wiseman plumbs the depths of his love for his father, drawing parallels between the absences caused by war and from his later death. These are beautiful poems -- demonstrating refined skill and talent -- that evoke deeply emotional responses to the humanity and acute observation captured in them. Wiseman is a winner of two Province of Alberta Poetry Awards, the Poetry Prize from the Writers' Guild of Alberta and an Alberta Achievement Award for Excellence in the literary arts.
He has contributed to the province's literary growth by establishing in 1977 the creative writing program at the University of Calgary, where he taught from 1969 to 1997.

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